There have been strange goings-on in southeast Asia’s indie rock scene of late. Like when legendary post-rockers Mogwai last month played Bandung, which is, by the way, a city in Indonesia. Could there really have been a paycheck involved? Is Singapore really now cool enough to host the Flaming Lips, as it did in late 2010? And can we believe that Hong Kong, that once dithering cultural desert, last year sold out a 3,000-person venue for a hipster band like MGMT?
Until now, no rock promoter has ever conceived of Southeast Asia — Taipei included — as a cohesive market, much less a profitable one. But this is exactly the vision that Hong Kong’s Untitled Entertainment has been developing over the past two years, and its wave is finally beginning to break across Taiwan. Last month, the company brought Brooklyn-based indie rockers The Pains of Being Pure at Heart to Taipei as part of an Asia tour, and on Wednesday, it will bring over four young bands with lots of British music industry buzz for a showcase comparable to what you could see at the world’s top-tier music festivals, like Glastonbury or Australia’s Big Day Out. The showcase, called the People’s Party, will assemble the groups Bombay Bicycle Club, Metronomy, The Naked and Famous, and The Jezabels for single-day performances in Taipei, Hong Kong, Jakarta and Singapore.
Then next month and in March, Untitled will produce Taipei shows for UK rock groups The Vaccines and The Horrors. In Taiwan, all of these concerts will happen at Legacy Taipei.
“We’re trying to create building blocks that make touring for rock bands feasible on a regional basis,” says Justin Sweeting, music director at Untitled Entertainment.
What: People’s Party, featuring The Naked and Famous, The Jezabels, Metronomy and Bombay Bicycle Club
When: Wednesday. Doors open at 6pm
Where: Huashan 1914 Creative Park (華山1914), Center Five Hall (中五館), 1, Bade Rd Sec 1, Taipei City (台北市八德路一段1號)
Admission: Tickets are NT$2,300 at the door and $2,000 in advance, available at ERA ticketing outlets, online through www.ticket.com.tw and www.legacy.com.tw and at 7-Eleven ibon kiosks
If most of these bands — and especially those chosen for the People’s Party — have something in common, it’s that they are very up-and-coming. In other words, they run counter to Asia’s reputation for hosting aging rockers who come simply to cash in — like Bob Dylan and Deep Purple. These are bands that have probably not yet peaked.
The Jezabels (from Australia) and The Naked and Famous (from New Zealand) both released debut CDs last year. Both groups also feature dynamic female vocalists, intense guitar-based atmospherics and have played some pretty big stages between them.
The Naked and Famous wowed both SXSW and Fuji Rock audiences last year, and The Jezabels will play at this year’s NME Music Awards ceremony in the UK. London’s Bombay Bicycle Club is a darling of BBC Radio 1 and is also known for rousing stage shows at top UK festivals. The band performs with a rowdy, slightly retro guitar sound, and though it has three albums, the group’s members would just be graduating university now had they not chosen rock ’n’ roll instead.
Metronomy, also UK-based, is an indie group with a sound that’s moved from catchy electronic twee to radio friendly indie-pop with its 2011 hit album, The English Riviera.
Taipei gets such bands occasionally, but seldom all in one shot. For most local promoters doing concerts at mid-capacity live houses like The Wall (600 people) and Legacy (1,200), the cost of such a showcase would be off-putting, to say the least. But operating on a regional scale may help Untitled solve the problem of travel costs, and Sweeting says they hope to do this without taking ticket prices to Japanese levels. This is possible, Sweeting says, because he believes that Asia is one of the world’s fastest growing music markets.